Posted in Netgalley

An Italian Girl in Brooklyn by Santa Montefiore

We all remember that incredible feeling of first love, more than likely with rose tinted glasses, full of nostalgia and novelty. It was on my mind while reading this book, mainly that joyful moment when you realise that they actually love you too. It’s intoxicating. The first time I fell in love, I leapt in feet first and had my heart broken, but I held a candle for him for many years and had it set in my mind as a perfect love. With a lot of years and a bit more wisdom, I can see it differently. However, I was always be grateful for the experience, because it showed me how great my capacity for love was. How much better would this experience be when I was ready for it, if it came my way again? Our novel follows Evelina, a young woman living in a remote part of northern Italy. She lives with her parents, her sister Benedetta and two formidable old ladies, her grandmother and great aunt. Life is peaceful for most of the time, but as WW2 looms closer there are changes both personal and for the whole of Italy. The influence of Hitler and his agreements with Italy’s leader Mussolini, will change all of their lives forever.

The central relationship in the novel illustrates these changes most dramatically. People of the Jewish faith have lived in Evelina’s village for so long they are simply part of the fabric of the place. Evelina has never realised that their village tailors, the Zanotti family, are Jewish, so when she meets their son Ezra she can’t imagine any obstacles to the way she feels, apart from some parental misgivings about his ability to support her. Yet, the outside world is about to come crashing in on the tentative feelings growing between these two young people. Within Evelina’s family circle, it is Benedetta’s new husband who brings the new politics into their midst. A staunch supporter of Mussolini, he is behind Hitler’s initiative to rid Europe of Jewish people. When he brings his views to the breakfast table, Evelina’s father says his views are not welcome in his home. Sadly, Benedetta then leaves dutifully with her husband bringing a rift between them. They’ve heard terrible stories, of Jewish people being taken to a prison camp in the far North of Italy before being placed on a train bound for Auschwitz- Birkenau. Friends start to plead with Ezra’s father to leave and knowing what’s coming. When it does, Ezra evades capture and joins the Resistance. Evelina creates a safe space in their chapel for Resistance fighters to rest and replenish themselves. After a brief and family sanctioned relationship, with a Jewish girl from the village who worked for Evelina’s family, the closeness of war and the threat to his family combine to influence Ezra. He breaks his promise to her and comes to Evelina, assuring her of his long held love for her, despite their religious difference. He wants to be true to his emotions rather than please his parents. Thus far he had seen Evelina as out of reach, now a blissful courtship develops. As summer blooms alongside their love, they create memories neither will ever forget. So, when he is captured, Evelina’s grief is devastating. Yet, she waits until the news confirms the worst; Ezra and his entire family are dead. With the Italy she knows gone forever Evelina makes a huge decision, she will cross the Atlantic and make the voyage to New York to live with her aunty, in Brooklyn.

Evelina’s story is told across two time periods, forty years after the war in Brooklyn, then back in time to WW2 Italy as she has flashbacks. She’a now 63 and married to an older professor called Franklin, with whom she has a family. She has built a lovely, welcoming home for her family and their close friends, usually other immigrants from Italy and the much beloved Uncle Topino and her Aunt Madelina. It’s a loving environment and her relationship with Franklin is a very loving one, even though part of her heart will always belong to Ezra.

And their love for each other had deepened. She loved Ezra still, she would never stop loving him, but she loved Franklin too. It was, indeed, possible to love two men in very different ways. She realized now, in her wisdom, that there were many faces to love.’

This really is a sweeping epic with a central love story that stayed with me, although I had so much respect for Evelina’s husband Franklin too. I didn’t know a lot about Italy’s role during WW2 and the background research did open my eyes to how they ended up drawn into Hitler’s plans for the future. It shows how the Nazi’s ideology broke up previously peaceful communities and even families like Evelina’s. She and her sister are very close, but she has to circumvent Benedetta’s husband to communicate with her. When he’s eventually called up to fight, the sisters are reunited and the family live together through the rest of the war. I loved the connections and help both sisters give to the Resistance, both of them with relationships torn apart by war in very different ways. This was a beautiful story where familial love is concerned, but the central love story is heart rending and has a twist that will truly surprise you. I often find love stories lacking in substance, but this wasn’t one of them. It was my first Santa Montefiore novel, but I’m very sure it won’t be my last.

Published by Simon and Schuster 7th July 2022

Born in England in 1970, Santa Montefiore grew up in Hampshire. She is married to writer Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London. Visit her at http://www.santamontefiore.co.uk.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Setup by Lizzy Dent.

Lizzy’s last novel was a great modern romantic comedy that, thanks to it’s main character, managed to avoid being too schmaltzy and sentimental. It also contained a healthy dose of self-discovery and self-love for a young woman who was low in confidence and used to drifting in life. In The SetUp she’s done it again. Mara is just the sort of quirky and unsure girl that readers fall in love with and I did. Being in my late forties, Mara reminded me of a time I wasn’t sure of myself and I mostly wanted to give her some hope and a big motherly hug. We meet Mara as she’s leaving for a weekend in Prague with her best friend Charlie. This is going to be real quality time for them, something that’s been difficult to get organise since her friend became a Mum. Everything in her friend’s life has changed and while Mara is pleased for her, she can’t help but feel pushed out. Charlie’s going through a whole raft of life experiences that Mara simply can’t identify with or share. The holiday is an attempt to get their friendship back on track so she’s terribly disappointed when Charlie cancels at the last minute. So Mara is in Prague alone and while wandering one day she sees a sign for palmistry and fortune telling. Mara is astrology mad, often reading her daily horoscope first thing in the morning. So on a whim she decides to have her fortune told. There is a change on the horizon, the fortune teller explains, a tall and dark man will literally walk into her life imminently. This is everything Mara has wanted to hear and she’s still digesting the news when the fortune teller explains she has to run, even leaving the keys for Mara to lock up. Within seconds the door opens and in walks a tall, dark and handsome musician called Josef, all set to play cello in the nearby concert hall. He asks for his fortune and who is Mara to object? She wants to get to know him better, because this might be her ‘one’. So she gives him a very specific fortune – when he comes to play in England later that year he will meet a woman called Mara in the pub on the seafront at Broadgate and she is his destiny.

Mara has been drifting through life. After knowing what she wanted to do from an early age and doggedly followed her dream of going to film school. She now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic cinema and rom-coms too of course. She even has a little card index of all the films she’s seen, because she loves nothing better than showing one of them to someone who’s never seen it before. She completed almost three years of her degree course, when a lack of confidence and blind love and trust for someone proved to be a toxic combination. She thought that he was the one. He thought he knew more about film than Mara, because he had the more serious taste, for art house cinema. As they worked on their final project together, Mara was envisioning them being a great team and she was proud of her script about a taxi driver falling in love with a passenger. All was well until Mara heard what her boyfriend really thought, both of her and her work. Then to add to her broken heart, he stole her film. Unable to stick up for herself and claim the work as her own, instead she packed her bags and left university for good. Now living in sunny Broadgate, on the south coast, Mara is trying to make friends with her work colleagues at the town’s 1930’s lido. Directly on the sea front, the lido is a great example of Art Deco architecture but isn’t used nearly enough by the people of the town. Mara is full of ideas, but it’s whether her boss will agree to them. Every idea she puts forward seems to be blocked or put on the back burner to think about at a later date. Mara senses there is more to this than mere apathy and starts investigating. To improve her finances she advertises for a new roommate and is gratified to find Ash, a local handyman/ builder who is keen to make friends, but also help her revamp the flat. Finally and to add to her new found enthusiasm for work, she decides on a bold new look at the hair salon too. When Josef arrives in the autumn every aspect of her life is going to be perfect.

I’m guessing that Lizzy Dent is placed within ‘women’s fiction’ or categorised as modern romance, two descriptors that critics can be sniffy and superior about. I think this book is the very best of it’s genre and isn’t simply a romance, at least not the conventional sort. What I enjoyed most about this book was the transformation of Mara, from her new look and the confidence it brings, to the inner growth that becomes wisdom and really transforms her outlook on life. As Mara works on the big anniversary project for the lido she starts to appreciate her new home town and the history of the incredible Art Deco building where she works. The excitement about her work brings her closer to her colleagues and they start to really bond as friends, in fact it is Samira from work who recommends a hairdresser to give Mara’s look an overhaul. She starts to appreciate their quirks and their work skills. In turn they are impressed by Mara’s ideas and enthusiasm and their appreciation gives her confidence professionally. The negative voice that was once a constant narrator in her mind, becomes quieter, allowing a stronger, more nurturing voice to develop. I was desperate for this little team to triumph and save such a unique landmark for their community.

Romantically, Mara isn’t remotely self-aware. She believes in fate, destiny and ‘the one’ – a viewpoint that her new roommate Ash finds hilarious. He doesn’t believe there’s a ‘one’ or a specific destiny awaiting him. I loved his common sense approach to life and love. He tries to get Mara to see that Josef is merely a fantasy and the likelihood of him turning up is very slim. He wants Mara to grab hold of life and to make choices for herself: pursue things that make her happy; wear things that make her confident and comfortable; improve her relationship with the family she seems to have cut out of her life. The author keeps us guessing over what will come next for Mara and I wanted to carry on reading straight through in one sitting to find out. I became so invested in her as a character and Ash is so loveable too, the sort of man I just know gives the best hugs. The depiction of female friendships is so positive and true to life. I haven’t had children and only became a stepmum at the age of 46, so I felt that distance when my friends became mums like Charlie. I had to learn how much they needed new friends who were going through the same thing, but they needed their old friends to hang in there just as much. I loved the last minute twist to the tale that forces Mara to make a choice, between the destiny and romantic fantasy of the old Mara and the more confident and certain Mara, able to make her own choices with conviction rather than leaving the universe to decide on her behalf.

Published by Viking 9th June 2022

Meet The Author

Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in a hotel not unlike the one in her first novel, The Summer Job. Soon to be a TV series! She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. She writes about women who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Setup is her second novel.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson.

Jane Sanderson’s new novel, Waiting For Sunshine, is on my most anticipated list for the summer. So it’s a great time to look back on her previous work and MixTape really resonated with me. I loved this book. Is it because I had a Dan? A musician who started as my best friend, but who I fell in love with. I was 18 and he took me to my first prom. His band were playing and it was 1991 so perms were everywhere and we were just adopting grunge. I would turn up for school in jumble sale floral dresses with my ever present oxblood Doc Martens. They played some of my favourite songs on prom night: some that were contemporary like Blur and others were classics like Wild Thing. I most remember Waterloo Sunset. Then, like a scene in a rom-com we walked across town to his house – me in a polka dot Laura Ashley ball gown and him in his dinner suit with the bow tie undone. He had a ruffled shirt underneath that he’d bought from Oxfam. We crept into the house and into the playroom so we didn’t wake any of his family, then watched When Harry Met Sally. I remember a single kiss and then we fell asleep but the love carried over the years.

When I think of Elliot I always think of those best friend couples, like Harry and Sally or later, Emma and Dex in One Day. Now I can add Dan and Ali to the list. Alison and Dan live in Sheffield in the late 1970s when the city is still a thriving steel manufacturer. Dan is from the more family friendly Nether Edge, while Alison is from the rougher Attercliffe area, in the shadow of a steel factory. They meet while still at school and Dan is transfixed with her dark hair, her edge and her love of music. Their relationship is based on music and Dan makes mix tapes for her to listen to when they’re not together such as ‘The Last Best Two’ – the last two tracks from a series of albums. What he doesn’t know is how much Alison needs that music. To be able to put it on as a wall of sound between her and her family. Dan never sees where she lives and doesn’t push her, he only knows she prefers his home whether she’s doing her homework at the kitchen table, getting her nails painted by his sister or sitting with his Dad in the pigeon loft. Catherine, Alison’s mum, is a drinker. Not even a functioning alcoholic, she comes home battered and dirty with no care for who she lets into their home. Alison’s brother, Pete, is her only consolation and protection at home. Both call their mum by her first name and try to avoid her whenever possible. Even worse is her on-off lover Martin Baxter, who has a threatening manner and his own key. Alison could never let Dan know how they have to live.

In alternate chapters we see what Alison and Dan are doing in the present. Now a music writer, Dan splits his time between a canal boat in London and home with his partner Katelin in Edinburgh. Alison has written a new novel ‘Tell the Story Sing the Song’ set in her adopted home Australia and based round an indigenous singer. It’s a worldwide hit and she finds herself in demand, having to negotiate being interviewed and getting to grips with social media. She has an affluent lifestyle with husband Michael and has two grown up daughters. She has a Twitter account that she’s terrible at using and it’s this that alerts Dan, what could be the harm in following her? The secret at the heart of this book is what happened so long ago back in Sheffield to send a girl to the other side of the world? Especially when she has found her soulmate. She and Dan are meant to be together so what could have driven them apart? Dan sends her a link via Twitter, to Elvis Costelloe’s ‘Pump It Up’, the song she was dancing to at a party when he fell in love with her. How will Alison reply and will Dan ever discover why he lost her back in the 1970s?

I believed in these characters immediately, and I know Sheffield well, here described with affectionate detail by the writer. The accent, the warmth of people like Dan’s dad, the landmarks and the troubled manufacturing industry are so familiar and captured perfectly. Even the secondary characters, like the couple’s families and friends are well drawn and endearing. Cass over in Australia, as well as Sheila and Dora, are great characters. Equally, Dan’s Edinburgh friend Duncan with his record shop and the hippy couple on the barge next door in London are real and engaging. Special mention also to his dog McCullough who I was desperate to cuddle. Both characters have great lives and happy relationships. Dan loves Katelin, in fact her only fault is that she isn’t Alison. Alison has been enveloped by Michael’s huge family and their housekeeper Beatriz who is like a surrogate Mum. It’s easy to see why the safety and security of Michael’s family, their money and lifestyle have appealed to a young Alison, still running away from her dysfunctional upbringing. She clearly wants different fir her daughters and wishes them the sort of complacency Dan shows in being sure his parents are always there where he left them. But is the odd dinner party and most nights sat side by side watching TV enough for her? She also has Sheila, an old friend of Catherine’s, who emigrated in the 1970s and flourished in Australia. Now married to Dora who drives a steam train, they are again like surrogate parents to Alison. So much anchors her in Australia, but are these ties stronger than first love and the sense of belonging she had with Dan all those years before?

About three quarters of the way through the book I started to read gingerly, almost as if it was a bomb that might go off. I’ve never got over that unexpected loss in One Day and I was scared. What if these two soulmates didn’t end up together? Or worse what if one of them is killed off by author before a happy ending is reached? I won’t ruin it by telling any more of the story. The tension and trauma of Alison’s family life is terrible and I dreaded finding out what had driven her away so dramatically. I think her shame about her mother is so sad, because the support was there for her and she wouldn’t let anyone help. She’s so fragile and on edge that Dan’s mum has reservations, she worries about her youngest son and whether Alison will break his heart. I love the music that goes back and forth between the pair, the meaning in the lyrics and how they choose them. This book is warm, moving and real. I loved it.

And what of my Daniel? Well he’s in Sheffield strangely enough. Happily partnered with three beautiful kids. I’m also happily partnered with two lovely stepdaughters. We’re very happy where we are and with our other halves. It’s nice though, just now and again, to catch up and remember the seventeen year old I was. Laid on his bedroom door, with my head in his lap listening to his latest find on vinyl. Or wandering the streets in my ballgown, high heels in one hand and him with his guitar case. Happy memories that will always make me smile.

Meet The Author

A former BBC Radio 4 producer, Jane Sanderson’s first novel – Netherwood – was published in 2011. She drew on much of her family’s background for this historical novel, which is set in a fictional mining town in the coalfields of Yorkshire. Ravenscliffe and Eden Falls followed in the two subsequent years, then in the early summer of 2017, This Much Is True was published, marking a change in direction for the author. This book is a contemporary tale of dog walks and dark secrets and the lengths a mother will go to protect her family. 

Jane lives in Herefordshire with her husband, the journalist and author Brian Viner. They have three children.

Posted in Netgalley

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin.

This book really was fun with a capital F! If you enjoy Jane Austen or Bridgerton then this is a book you’ll love. It has that clever ability to be frothy and witty, while actually bringing up some important issues, especially about the woman’s role in Regency society. It takes a look at class and what is really expected of those in the very highest society, or the ‘ton’ as they are dubbed here – I’ll be honest and say I’ve watched two whole series of Bridgerton and wondered what ‘ton’ meant, now I’ve finally looked it up! This brilliant debut rackets along at a fantastic pace, with glorious balls and luxurious fashions one minute, then adventurous rescues the next. Our heroine is Kitty Talbot, eldest of five girls who live in the Dorset countryside. As the book opens Kitty is responsible for her sisters, since both of their parents have died. Mr and Mrs Talbot were ostracised from high society before the girls were even born and the family have lived a relatively quiet life. Unfortunately, Mr Talbot had kept a taste for the gaming tables and while his debt grew he also turned to drink. On their death Kitty was left in charge of four sisters, a badly trained dog, a leaking roof and a threat from the debt collectors that payment must be made soon. Luckily, four years ago Kitty secured a proposal of marriage from Mr Linfield, a local squire with a reasonable fortune. Horrifyingly though, a few months before their debt is due, Mr Linfield withdraws his offer of marriage, leaving Kitty solely responsible for her sister’s home and their future. There is only one solution; Kitty needs a fortune and she needs it fast. So, she pawns the last of their mother’s jewellery for costs and decides that she and her sister Cecily will visit their Aunt Dorothy in London where they may be able to gain introductions into society. The season has begun and every eligible bachelor with a fortune will be in attendance. Can Kitty find her fortune before her time runs out, or the secrets about their parent’s departure from London are made known?

As with Austen, there are serious issues and themes underneath the glamour and witty repartee. There’s an absolute honesty in what Kitty is trying to do, both with her family and herself, if not with her potential suitor. She soul searches about whether she can live with the decision to marry purely for financial protection, but when she thinks of her sisters she finds she can live with it quite comfortably. She knows each of them so well, that she can imagine their future needs – the one who wants to learn, the one who needs to marry for love and the one who might never marry. She’s happy as long as her sacrifice means they can have what they need and I found that an admirable quality. Yet, polite society and certainly those of the ‘ton’ find this deceitful and vulgar. The author is highlighting the double-standard here, it’s only Kitty’s gender and class that make her actions vulgar. Men in high society can pick the most eligible woman based on her looks, her age, her child-bearing possibilities and even her fortune, should his be lacking. Should a society gentleman, even a Duke, chooses a young woman of a lower class to him then his actions are accepted. There may be gossip, but whether it’s for love, lust, money or breeding ability no one truly cares as long as she is of good character and virtue. Kitty is simply doing the same, there’s a commodity she needs and marriage is her only means of achieving it. In the ballrooms and salons of London, all young women in the act of finding a match are sparing with the truth. They are making the best of their looks, inventing accomplishments and laughing at awful jokes. They make themselves less: less intelligent, less witty, less feisty. They have to flatter, make the man seem superior in all these things. So, why is Kitty’s plan any different? Her class is the deciding factor, breeding being all important for men of the peerage particularly, it is desirable to meet a woman of a similar class and not marry down. It is Kitty’s dishonesty about her class and lack of money that condemn her.

Once settled at her Aunt’s house, they ‘accidentally’ meet the de Lacey family, one of the most respected families here for the London season. It is the younger son Archie that Kitty thinks might be a suitable candidate and since Cecily went to school with his younger sister Amelia they have a connection. However, it’s with Archie’s elder brother that Kitty can be truly open and honest. James is now Lord Radcliffe after the death of his father but has spent most time at their country seat in Devon. He is in hiding, alongside fellow officer Captain Hinsley, with whom he shared the experience of fighting at Waterloo. He’s superior, intelligent and doesn’t suffer fools, but he’s also holding a lot of emotions in check and felt he wasn’t ready to be the head of his family. Once alerted to the possibility of an alliance between Archie and a young woman who appears to have no breeding or family fortune, he rides back to London determined to sever the connection. He and Kitty’s exchanges are probably the most honest and equal in the book, as well as making me laugh. He can see her ability to charm and once they’ve been honest with each other they seem to relax in each other’s company and Kitty grows in confidence. She makes it clear that no matter what he may see her as – a fortune hunter – her only other choice is to let the family home go and for the sisters to look for paid work that will separate them. I admired her honesty and her ability to see the objections to fortune hunters as hypocrisy. The whole London season is about making matches, sometimes for very similar reasons to Kitty’s own.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ups and downs of her mission and her determination to become an integral part of the season. The setting is beautifully described, especially the culture shock of a dirty and sooty London as compared to the country. I loved the image of higgledy-piggledy buildings that are bowed or look ‘haphazardly drawn as if by a child’. The detailed description of the latest fashions and how the girls have to craftily accessorise so they look like they’re wearing something new. Even so, Kitty is outed in the mind of Lady Radcliffe who notices a shoe with a wooden button that marks them out as from Cheapside. There are also other plot lines that feed into the central premise that work very well too: the story of Kitty and Cecily’s parents and why they were unwelcome in polite society; the identity of Aunt Dorothy and her reluctance to follow Kitty’s forays into high society; Kitty’s insistence that Cecy isn’t looking for a husband while her sister has her own plans; Archie’s discovery of gambling clubs and the predatory lords who frequent the clubs looking for young, inexperienced men who are about to come into their fortunes. I felt the author had the balance just right between humour and frivolity and the darker sides of the story. It gallops along at a jolly pace and it’s very easy to keep on reading into the night. The excitement peaks one evening as two very different rescue missions are undertaken; one to save a reputation and the other to save a fortune. These missions are taken at a breakneck pace and it’s impossible to put the book down once you’ve reached this point – you will simply have to keep reading to the end. The author has written a wonderfully satirical and deceptively light novel, with plenty of intrigue and some darker undertones. I enjoyed the Talbot sisters and wondered whether we’d be seeing more of them in the future, if so they’ll definitely be on my wishlist.

Published by Harper Collins 12th May 2022

Meet The Author

Sophie has spent years immersed in the study of historical fiction, from a dissertation on why Georgette Heyer helped win World War Two, to time spent in dusty stacks and old tomes doing detailed period research when writing this book. Her love and passion for historical fiction bring a breath of fresh air and a contemporary energy to the genre. Sophie hopes to transport readers to Regency London, where ballrooms are more like battlegrounds.

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting is Sophie’s debut novel and it has already sold in twenty territories worldwide.

Twitter @SophieHIrwin

Instagram @sophie.irwin

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey.

This week’s reading took me back into the world of the Bright Young Things, the young generations of aristocrats in 1920s Britain intent on living it up and shaking off the aftermath of WWI. The Mitford sisters were part of this scene and it was while reading about Nancy Mitford’s exploits in 1920’s London that my mind was drawn back to this beautiful book depicting that new generation. A book I read originally for the blog tour back in 2019. Iona Grey shows young people coping with a legacy of loss and parents that are still stuck in the hierarchical society of the Edwardian period. Our heroine, Selina Lennox, is one of those ‘Bright Young Things’ who were followed by the press from party to party, determined to the live the full life that their parents, and especially older siblings, have missed out on. Her family are part of an ailing aristocracy that still has its property, but is running short on money. Her elder sister is making an advantageous marriage and since the death of their brother in the war they have the pressure of producing a male heir. Selina is being steered towards the heir of a ruby mining business situated in Burma. Rupert is a war veteran, and it is possibly active service that has made him so stiff and taciturn. Selina finds him too serious and prefers the company of her friends and the social whirl of extravagant parties thrown during the season. One night, while careering through London on a treasure hunt, the car she is travelling in hits a cat. Selina can’t leave the poor creature and is horrified to see her friends disappearing into the night, leaving her in a garden square somewhere in Bloomsbury.

Young, struggling artist Lawrence Weston chances upon Selina and offers his help. They climb into the locked garden square and give the cat a proper burial. Selina is drawn to this dark haired young man but also knows she is taking a huge risk disappearing at night with a stranger who isn’t from within her social circle. Lawrence is transfixed by Selina’s golden beauty and feels an instant connection. He knows she is far above him and her family would be horrified. He lives in a shared house and rents a studio where he paints portraits of the aristocracy’s lost sons of war in all their military splendour. This pays the bills, but he would really love to be a photographer and as yet no one sees this as art. Realistically, he has no chance with Selina but can’t seem to stay away despite receiving warnings from most of his friends.

Interspersed with this is the story of Selina’s daughter Alice in the years before WW2. Alice lives on the family estate and is looked after by Polly who was Selina’s maid. Alice’s grandparents are still in residence, still living the values of a bygone age. Miranda has now given birth to Archie, the all important heir for the estate. Selina is in Burma with her husband and we see their journey in a series of letters she writes to Alice. They clearly have a very loving relationship, so it seems strange that Alice is hidden away in the cold nursery corridor? I kept wondering why, if she loves her daughter as much as she seems to, would Selina leave her with a family who show her no affection? Alice has been sent a treasure hunt from her mother and Polly gives her the clues to follow. Solving the clues takes her to different parts of the estate and her mother explains their significance, they’re part of Alice’s origin story. The clues help Alice come to know and love the gardens, especially the deserted Chinese House with its old gramophone. What exactly is their link to Selina’s past and Alice’s future?

Iona Grey has created a beautiful novel here, filled with moments of joy and sadness. For me, the meaning of the title is so poignant encompassing both the historical period and the love story at the heart of the novel. The 1920’s is a decade that stands alone. A moment of extravagance, partying and glamour, between two world wars – a glittering hour. This glittering generation defied the death that had stalked their fathers and elder brothers in the trenches and were determined to enjoy life while they could. It has a romantic meaning too – for Lawrence, Selina is his glittering hour, they share a moment of pure love and beauty that burns bright but can’t burn forever. Grey shows what happens when we dare to break away from the boundaries and societal rules of our class and how the reverberations from this can last for several generations. The love may not last, but the memories can sustain us for a lifetime.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK and Random Things Book Tours for the chance to read this novel and join the blog tour. See below for the next stops.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh.

I’ve been putting together a list of all the summer releases I’m looking forward to and one of my most anticipated books is Rosie Walsh’s The Love of My Life. So I thought it was a great time to look back on her last novel which I absolutely loved.

I read this in two long bursts – one of which started at 3am. It’s a book I couldn’t put it down because all I wanted was these two people back together. The harsh realities of grief and lifelong family rifts are well drawn and believable. All of these people are trying to move forward despite their lives missing a beat one day on a country road, where a split second decision has lifelong consequences. This book explores grief, loss, loyalty, loneliness and the incredible ability the human heart has to heal.

Sarah has a 7 day whirlwind romance with Eddie. They meet by chance on a country road while Sarah is visiting her parents. She thinks Eddie just might be the one. But, Eddie goes away on holiday and she never hears from him again. Is Eddie a heartless playboy who never intended to call? Did Sarah do something wrong? Or has something terrible happened to him? Instead of listening to friends and writing this off as a one night stand, Sarah begins to obsess and is determined to find the answer. Every clue she has comes to a dead end and she is in danger of completely losing her dignity. As her time back home in the UK starts to run out, Sarah looks for clues to track Eddie down. What she hears is confusing her further. His friend doesn’t give the simple answer, that Eddie has moved on, but gives her a warning; if she knows what’s best for her, she needs to stop looking for Eddie

I quickly became invested in Sarah and Eddie’s story. I think we’ve all been subjected to the watched phone that never rings and how crazy it can make us. It could have made me dislike Eddie early on, but for some reason I never did. I’m definitely a hopeless romantic so I seemed to accept Sarah’s hope that this could still work out. The other characters in the novel are also well-written and compelling. I’m a therapist so I was particularly interested in Eddie’s mother and her mental ill health. I think her symptoms and the way she manipulated Eddie showed a streak of narcissism. She finds it impossible to see this situation from his point of view, only how it affects her. Anything that threatens their dynamic as carer and patient is a huge threat to her and she responds with emotional blackmail and hostility. Eddie is as much a prisoner of her mental ill health as she is. I also had empathy for Sarah’s friend Jenny who is struggling to conceive and undergoes IVF treatment to the point of financial ruin. Her character probably leapt out at me because I’m also not able to have children, and know how difficult it can be to come to terms with. Her stoicism and determination to support her friend in the face of her own loss is very moving.

I stayed up late to finish the book, because I had everything crossed that the mystery would be explained and these two people could move forward together. To different degrees, all the novels characters are imprisoned by the past and losses they can’t accept. My husband died when he was 42 and I was 35. It’s like a chasm opened up and I had to choose between staying on one side forever, with the past and my feelings of loss and fear. Or I could choose to jump over that chasm into a new future. I never forget what happened or the love I have for Jerzy, but twelve years later I have a wonderful partner and two beautiful stepdaughters. Thankfully, I had the bravery to move forward knowing I can’t lose my memories of the past but I still have a future full of possibilities I never imagined. That’s what the characters in the novel are trying to do. Grief is different for everyone and there are always tensions between those who are trying to heal and those who can’t imagine healing because it feels like a betrayal. Rosie Walsh draws these different threads together beautifully, creating a bittersweet novel that captures that moment of choice – to draw on our reserves of resilience, jump over the chasm and live again.

Meet the Author

Rosie Walsh is the internationally bestselling author of two novels, the global smash hit THE MAN WHO DIDN’T CALL, and – new for 2022 – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, a heart-wrenching, keep-you-up-all-night emotional thriller, which was an instant New York Times bestseller and stayed in the German top ten for several weeks. 

Rosie Walsh lives on a medieval farm in Devon, UK, with her partner and two young children, after years living and travelling all over the world as a documentary producer and writer. 

The Man Who Didn’t Call (UK) / Ghosted (US) was her first book under her own name, and was published around the world in 2018, going on to be a multimillion bestseller. 

Prior to writing under her own name she wrote four romantic comedies under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson. When she isn’t parenting or writing, Rosie can be found walking on Dartmoor, growing vegetables and throwing raves for adults and children in leaking barns.

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Freya Sampson Cover Reveal.

I don’t often do cover reveals or previews, but there are just so many books to look forward to I might start. I think it’s the only way I can tell show you the novels I’m excited about. Otherwise I have to wait till I’ve read and review them all and that can take a while! Sometimes just the blurb and the cover is enough to whet my appetite. Other times it’s the first page that I’ve been reading while stood up in the queue at the bookshop. Sometimes I’ve been granted the book on NetGalley and couldn’t resist peeking at the first chapter. Or it could be I’ve read the author’s first book and I’ve been waiting impatiently for that difficult second book, just knowing it will be great.

Today I’m talking about Freya Sampson’s new book The Girl on the 88 Bus. I loved reading her debut novel The Last Library last year because it was like a warm hug in a book. By the looks of early reviews this book has that same magical feel. Here’s the blurb:

When Libby Nicholls arrives in London, broken-hearted and with her life in tatters, the first person she meets on the bus is elderly pensioner Frank. He tells her about the time in 1962 he met a girl on the number 88 bus with beautiful red hair just like her own. They made plans for a date, but Frank lost the ticket with her number written on it. For the past sixty years, he’s ridden the same bus trying to find her.

More than anything, Libby wants Frank to see his lost love one more time. But their quest also shows Libby just how important it is to embrace her own chance for happiness – before it’s too late.

A beautifully uplifting novel about how one chance meeting can change the course of your life forever

Published in June 2022 by Zaffre Publishing. I can’t wait. Can you?

Meet The Author


Freya Sampson works in TV and was the executive producer of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed and Gogglesprogs. She studied History at Cambridge University and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize. She lives in London with her husband, two young children and an antisocial cat

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Shoot The Moon by Bella Cassidy

Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

There was an awful lot to admire in this novel about a young woman who makes her living capturing the love of others, while struggling to find the love she needs. I say needs rather than wants, because Tassie doesn’t really know what she wants or even the type of man that’s best for her. Largely this is because she’s stuck on a relationship she had when she was a teenager. I really felt for this woman, because she has so much going for her, but doesn’t realise it. She has had an exciting career in photography across the world, but more recently has worked for a U.K. wedding magazine. Tassie is given a file containing all the details of a wedding that her work colleague and friend has picked for their next real wedding feature. Tassie then travels down to that wedding to photograph it for the magazine. I particularly loved this rock and roll wedding, with the bride in a black dress and the mother of the bride performing the ceremony in her role as vicar. The author captures the beautiful details of the wedding so well I felt I was there. The Scottish wedding is also spectacular, not just the ceremony but the scenery around them. Scotland is the first time I see Tassie truly relax and let go of plans and schedules, leaving her phone to one side. It’s a moment of quiet in an otherwise busy story. In her spare time Tassie is a homebody, either tackling some of the DIY on her flat or tending the well-kept garden where she grows herbs and vegetables. She seems comfortable with who she is.

However, she doesn’t seem to know who she is when it comes to finding a partner. She harks back to her teenage years and the time she spent as Alex’s girlfriend. I love the way the author depicts our formative romantic relationships as something that shapes our love life into the future. Her seemingly perfect relationship with Alex possibly wasn’t that great, but when we put our rose tinted glasses on it can seem. Also, teenage relationships don’t have the pressures that our adult relationships do. They’re intense because it’s a new experience, but also because we don’t have the constraints or worries of work, money, mortgages and children. We have all the time in the world to be in love when we’re younger. Tassie only sees Alex occasionally these days and I wondered how much the relationship really suited his agenda, but left Tassie quite lonely and blocked her from moving on. There was an emotionally intelligent look at how attachment issues affect our relationships too; if we fear abandonment then we might put up with difficult behaviour just to avoid confrontation and potentially being abandoned again. I think Tassie is aware that Alex is not a fulfilling relationship for her, but can she cope with the feelings of being without it? Dan is a fantastic romantic lead character and has a lot of the qualities Tassie values in a man. He seems like someone who is straightforward, honest and loyal. Their personalities fit together well and he seems ready for a serious relationship, but can she take that step with someone she’s just met without fearing abandonment?

The author pulls everything together well as Tassie’s world changes completely when she makes a mistake at work and risks the reputation of the magazine. She has to think quickly because living in a London flat with her lifestyle won’t be financially sustainable. This seems like rock bottom for her, but could it possibly be a blessing in disguise? Could it be the right time to go home to the farm, given that her lifelong issues with her mum are still causing her emotional pain? Maybe it will also give her the opportunity to try something completely new as a career? I was keeping my fingers crossed for her because I wanted her to feel comfortable with who she was and feel whole. She might also be ready for that real, committed relationship to come along – but I didn’t need that for a happy ending. My only criticism of the book is that there were moments I felt like I was reading a different story. At the beginning we learn that Tassie sees a little blonde girl, who could be an imaginary friend, except Tassie continues to see her from time to time. Tassie feels like they’re connected in some way, but doesn’t know how. I found this really interesting and it had a different feel to the rest of the book. It didn’t seem to fit with the lighter tone around the wedding magazine and I had a feeling this could have been the start to quite a different novel. It’s a small thing, and I did like the way it was tied into her childhood anyway. All in all this was a great read for Valentine’s Day, and should suit romance readers as well as those who like their romances to have some emotional depth.

Meet the Author

Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper. She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.

She’s done a lot of research for writing a wedding romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/BellaMoonShoot/

https://www.instagram.com/bellamoonshoot/

https://mobile.twitter.com/bellamoonshoot

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/SHOOT-MOON-alternative-game-hearts-ebook/dp/B09D2DHZYG

US – https://www.amazon.com/SHOOT-MOON-alternative-game-hearts-ebook/dp/B09D2DHZYG

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Valentine’s Day! My Literary Crushes

I thought I’d celebrate Valentine’s Day by talking about our literary crushes. Let’s be honest, we all have them. Those literary heroes that draw us in and make us swoon. From a young age there have been literary heroes that have stuck in my mind, and probably informed some ill-advised dating choices over the years. Those formative literary heroes who made my adolescent heart flutter, have changed a lot as years have gone by. Perhaps because what I’ve learned through my real life relationships has started to change the characteristics that attract me in a hero. Those young, dashing, tortured souls don’t seem quite so attractive when you’ve encountered a few in real life. Of course, literary adaptations on film or TV often influence these crushes greatly – remember the endless banging on about a wet Colin Firth striding across the Derbyshire countryside? My mum’s expectation of that scene had obviously been honed by 1970’s literary adaptations like Women in Love where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates famously wrestled naked in front of a roaring fire. She expected Darcy to be wearing less clothes and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Anyway, I much preferred a slightly dishevelled Matthew McFadyen Mr Darcy, striding across a field at dawn. However, between the book covers, Mr Darcy simply doesn’t do it for me. Similarly, Mr Thornton from North and South was incredibly sexy when portrayed by the lovely Richard Armitage, but simply fails to light my fire when reading the book. So, with some trepidation, here are my reading crushes. Let me know yours. There’s no judgement here. ❤️❤️

Mr Rochester – Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester

“To women who please me only by their faces, I am the very devil when I find out they have neither souls nor hearts…but to the clear eye and eloquent tongue, to the soul made of fire, and the character that bends but does not break—at once supple and stable, tractable and consistent—I am every tender and true.”

Considering they barely left the surroundings of their home at Haworth, those Brontë girls knew how to write the brooding, Byronic, hero. Heathcliff is probably the best example, but I read Wuthering Heights again when I was older, and he was a bit too tortured soul for my liking, plus he hangs a woman’s dog for goodness sake! I first read Jane Eyre when I was ten, in my last year of primary school, and I’ve read it every couple of years since. When younger, I loved the slow burn of their romance. From the moment she saves him from burning in his bed, it’s clear there’s something about Jane that attracts him. For him, she seems like a cool drink on a hot day. Somewhere he can sit and find peace, and let’s face it, he has an awful lot of drama to escape from. Of course when I was young I couldn’t see the feminist or sexual implications of the novel – Bertha upstairs was a bit of a monster to me. She was the gothic, scary bit so I didn’t really think about her as a person or what Rochester had done to her, until I was in my teens. I liked his dark brooding character and when he appears out of the fog on his horse it is still a swoon moment for me. I think I also enjoyed that he loves the plain, poor governess rather than the decorative, but awful Blanche Ingram. I loved their conversations and the way he seems to enjoy that fiery part of Jane. In my teens I used to think she was mad for leaving Rochester, but later I could see why she left and sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for her to keep her fortune and take off on a trip across the world. At least when she does return to Rochester it’s as an equal, with her own fortune and experience

Willoughby – Sense and Sensibility

Greg Wise as Willoughby

In every meeting of the kind Willoughby was included; and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing intimacy to his acquaintance with the Dashwoods, to afford him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Marianne, of marking his animated admiration of her, and of receiving, in her behaviour to himself, the most pointed assurance of her affection.

We’re still in bad boy territory here, with the ultimate cad who breaks Marianne’s heart and reputation in Sense and Sensibility. I have read the book, but I will admit that the Greg Wise version does play a large part in this choice. I loved the romantic way that Willoughby finds Marianne, having sprained her ankle on a hillside. He simply picks her up and carries her home. Factor in some rain, and Greg Wise being all dark and handsome, mastering a huge horse and a literary crush was born. No wonder Emma Thompson wrote in her diary on that particular day that Greg was setting all hearts fluttering as he was drippng wet an

a he loves Marianne, but in need of money he chooses status and an heiress above his heart. There’s no excuse for how he behaves, he’s an absolute rat, but that rush of chemistry can’t be denied. Would we have done any different to Marianne? In the film, when he rides to the hill in order to watch Marianne and Colonel Brandon leaving the church after their wedding, I think he’s truly sad and a little jealous.

Jamie Fraser – Outlander.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you–then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest. Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”

I couldn’t resist the giant photo of Jamie Fraser! I had barely started reading the Outlander series when the TV series started so now the literary character is always going to be linked with the lovely Sam Heughan. He’s a great choice for the character and the chemistry between him and Catriona Balfe as Claire is perfect. What I love about Jamie is the way Diana Gabaldon has written him and it’s something that spills over into the TV series. We as readers are firmly with Claire and everything Jamie does is viewed through the female gaze. Their wedding night sequence is good example. We experience him through Claire and it’s his body we’re undressing and enjoying. I think the allure of Jamie is that heady mix of tough outdoors warrior, with a vulnerability underneath. There’s the way he respects her ideas and opinions, unheard of in most men of Claire’s time, never mind the 18th Century. It’s also his deep loyalty to Claire, not just across the few years they’re together but all those years inbetween when they’re in a different time from each other. There’s nothing more romantic than that.

Cormoran Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling Series

Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike

‘My best mate . . . ” For a split second he wondered whether he was going to say it, but the whisky had lifted the guard he usually kept upon himself: why not say it, why not let go? ‘. . . is you.”

Robin was so amazed, she couldn’t speak. Never, in four years, had Strike come close to telling her what she was to him. Fondness had had to be deduced from offhand comments, small kindnesses, awkward silences or gestures forced from him under stress. She’d only once before felt as she did now, and the unexpected gift that had engendered the feeling had been a sapphire and diamond ring, which she’d left behind when she walked out on the man who’d given it to her.She wanted to make some kind of return, but for a moment or two, her throat felt too constricted. ‘I . . . well, the feeling’s mutual,” she said, trying not to sound too happy.”

Finally, I actually fancy someone in this century! From the moment I picked up a dog eared copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling in a charity shop I was hooked on private investigator Cormoran Strike. Yes, there’s the old tortured soul aspect to his personality, but it’s not just the high pitched warning alarm of a damaged man that calls out to me. I remember how well the author described him having to care for the stump left when his leg was amputated. It felt realistic to me, because walking and standing a lot was painful for him. If he is tailing someone he would ache and his leg might have chafed against his prosthetic. I appreciated a hero with a disability, his heroism magnified by the fact he was injured in action. He’s a big man, broad and tall, so much so that you’d feel safe with him. He may be vulnerable, but he can handle himself if necessary and that’s a heady combination. He’s a great listener, full of empathy for people in a predicament and for those close to him. He’s deeply loyal to those who he can trust, like his business partner Robin. He’s been messed up by women, from his mother to his long term girlfriend Charlotte. However, he’s a very private about his relationships and seems to have his own code of honour which is very attractive.

Captain Wentworth – Persuasion

Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”

Are there any more romantic words in literature? Wentworth’s letter is, for me, the most romantic I’ve read. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best declaration of love in the classics. It’s all the more wonderful because Anne is so unassuming and modest. She has spent months with Wentworth back in her circle, loving him from afar, but never presuming he might feel the same way. In fact she’s so sure he’s moved on from the feelings he had for her when they were younger, she thinks he’s in love with Louisa Musgrove. She has so little confidence that she misses the care and kindness he shows her. After a long walk he makes sure it is Anne who gets the seat on the carriage because he’s thinking of her comfort. She thinks he wants to be alone with Louisa or that he thinks she needs to sit as she’s older. I love Wentworth’s constancy and the passion he has been hiding under that polite exterior. The kiss that follows is wonderful, because we’ve been waiting for it so long.

Jackson Brodie – Case Histories Series

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie


“He was officially a lunatic, she decided. Strangely, that didn’t make him less attractive.”

What is it about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie? He’s a slightly rumpled, middle-aged, private investigator. He’s been in the military and the police so is probably institutionalised. In fact he’s a bit of a hopeless case, often taking on the lame ducks he finds along the way, whether they’re human or canine. Marriage doesn’t seem to suit him, but he is a very loyal friend. He’s quite grumpy and set in his ways. I’m not really selling him well I know, but there is that indefinable something that’s attractive. Rather like Cormoran Strike, there’s that sense that he’s an honourable man. He’s old-fashioned and would want to make sure you got home ok. In fact he’s one of those men who would walk on the outside on the pavement so you’re safe, away from the traffic and don’t get splashed. I imagine he looks like life has knocked him around a bit, but if someone needs help he would still be the first one there. There are times when he does the right thing, not by the book, but by his own moral code and I love that.

Gabriel Oak – Far From The Madding Crowd.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

I haven’t put my crushes in any sort of order, but I’ve definitely saved the best till last. If you ask me, for most of the book, Bathsheba Everdene needs her head examining. Near the beginning of the book, Gabriel visits her. They’ve been neighbours and he comes striding across the fields with a lamb under his arm. It’s an orphan and he thought she might like to feed and take care of him. He then proposes to her and she refuses! If a man brought me a lamb I’d be beside myself with excitement and I’d be saying yes before he’d finished his sentence. How can you turn down a man who brings you your very own lamb? However, their fates are intertwined. After a terrible tragedy where he loses his whole flock, Gabriel is forced to look for a job. It turns out that Bathsheba has become an heiress, inheriting a farm but luckily needing someone to manage it for her.

Gabriel proves himself to be a loyal employee and is constant even when she marries the ridiculous Sergeant Troy. Troy gambles her money and one night gets the whole workforce dangerously drunk. They are celebrating the harvest, but the hay stacks aren’t covered and a storm blows up. Bathsheba finds Gabriel desperately trying to save he harvest for her, while Troy is passed out cold in the barn. Bathsheba grows up a lot in the course of the novel and she starts to see and value the qualities Gabriel has. She has previously overlooked his steadfast loyalty, how hard he will work for her and what an incredible friend he can be. He listens to her and when she is silly enough to lead on Mr Boldwood, an older gentleman who owns the neighbouring land, he speaks to her and warns her that it isn’t fair. Of course, this being Hardy, this flirtation ends in tragedy. Yet Gabriel is still there and when he proposes a second time she’s finally ready for the love he’s offering.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you have a literary crush you enjoy ❤️❤️

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Romance, Love and One Day by David Nicholls

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of romantic novels on the whole, not as a genre anyway. However, I’m also that annoying person who writes outside the boxes on forms, resists the Census and ticks ‘rather not say’ if there’s an option to do so. My objection is to categories and putting things in boxes. I don’t object to a love story, in fact some of my favourite books are love stories. It’s just I don’t like it when love stories are packaged as romantic fiction or women’s fiction, given candy pink or baby blue covers, and characters who have little depth or motivation beyond the ‘meet cute’. I understand that, since Shakespeare, there’s been a set formula to the love story, but this can be taken to extremes. I actively hate simple love stories with manufactured obstacles and I definitely hated Fifty Shades of Grey (which was in no way a love story, but marketed as one). Perhaps my problem isn’t with love, but with romance; a much more contrived hearts, flowers and happy endings sort of place.

I like real obstacles: the terrible coincidence in Rosie Walsh’s The Man Who Didn’t Call; the limits posed by Will’s attitude to his disability in Me Before You; the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre; the girlish mistake of refusing a proposal in Persuasion. My favourite romcom is When Harry Met Sally so I do enjoy a ‘friends to lovers’ scenario, but it’s also witty with snappy dialogue and Billy Crystal making a woman miaow in bed. I love stories that are based within a historical or time-slip setting like the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon. I also like it when characters are so real it’s painful like Sally Rooney’s awkward teenage fumbling in Ordinary People. The characters must have depth, genuine problems or some meaty psychological issues to get my teeth into. I enjoy love stories set in other cultures or those that could be written as forbidden. I loved the viewpoint of a man coming to terms with his homosexuality in A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale and the transgressive love affair of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I enjoyed how love blossomed from a marriage of convenience during the Windrush era in Andrea Levy’s Small Island. I also loved the bittersweet tale of love gone wrong in David Nicholls’s other novel Us where our protagonist’s marriage breakdown comes into focus on a trip through Europe, interspersed beautifully with scenes from when they fall in love.

Several years ago, like thousands of others, I was blindsided by One Day. There was a time when you couldn’t move on public transport without knocking into someone reading this book. It’s a simple premise. Dexter and Emma were at Edinburgh University and as they graduate they spend the day together and forge a friendship, they climb Arthur’s Seat in their cap and gowns and talk about what they want for their futures. Dex would like to work in television and Emma would like to be a writer. The book then follows their story on the same day each year, sometimes together and sometimes apart, we see how life has changed them and the circumstances they find themselves in. Of course we know that Emma and Dex should be together, but will they ever find the right time or the courage to try?

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t feel ‘grabbed’ by their story. My interest was mainly in their individual lives, especially considering that the book is set so that they’re both a similar age to me. I recognised the era, the reference points and also the struggles of life as they go through them. I thought Dex was a bit of a dick to be honest. He’s a player, egotistical and at times downright unpleasant. I really bonded with Emma though. A northern girl, she has a brand of kindness and an ability to see through bullshit that I liked. I saw some of me in her and I have always wanted to be a writer, but also went into teacher training (and didn’t finish). She clearly loves Dex, but will he ever see her? Mostly he sees her as a consolation prize, a shoulder to cry on, an advice giver and sometimes the great big kick up the arse he deserves. I can honestly say I hoped they never got together at several points in the book, because I didn’t think he deserved her. There’s a point where Emma has gone through a really tough time. She breaks off her engagement and goes through moving out and separating from her fiancé emotionally and financially. She goes out to Paris for a while and starts to write a children’s book. She has her hair cut short. She makes friends. I loved this Emma and I thought she’s built a new life from the ground up with no help from anyone. I wanted her to stay there.

As I know all too well, our love lives never simple. Often, where the decisions to be together seem very easy to make, it’s the right person. It’s reciprocal and committed. When we’re younger we’re learning about who we are in a relationship. We don’t know how much to compromise and how much to stick firmly to who we are or what we want for ourselves. We can get tangled up in relationships that are no good for us, are abusive, are with people who cheat, or people who put up obstacles and change their minds. We love people who aren’t ready, or who are too busy adding notches to the bed post. We can be so unsure of ourselves in our teenage years (and beyond) that we accept relationships that aren’t good for us and allow behaviour that’s demeaning or grinds down our self-worth. It’s also hard to love someone who doesn’t love you or who claims they can’t be with you. That great line from Sex and the City springs to mind – ‘he’s just not that into you’ – because when they are into you, they move mountains to be there. I felt that Dex was scared of real love and preferred empty encounters with beautiful women. Emma doesn’t value herself enough to set boundaries or ask for the love she deserves.

Everybody who knows the book will know the line I’m talking about. That one line I read and spontaneously burst into tears. That rarely happens with a book, but it did here. That’s when I knew this book had got me. My emotions were so invested in these characters that I had such a spontaneous response. I’m not sure how David Nicholls managed it, but I’ve spoken to other people who were similarly emotional. I think it’s the way he writes these two characters, they’re real and flawed. They struggle with life. We go through so many highs and lows with them, because even though we meet up with them on one day, we’re drawn in to how they got where they are. They’re not perfect either, far from it. Nichols weaves in addiction problems, affairs, career disasters and the difficulties of being a parent. There’s also huge loss to, and how the characters deal with these setbacks. One Day is a love story. Love is the primary theme of the novel. However, it’s also about being honest with ourself and others about our feelings and about recognising what love actually is. Perhaps I love One Day because it does go beyond the ‘falling in love’ stage, that even after years of yearning and kidding themselves about their feelings, Emma and Dex can still wake up one morning unnecessarily grumpy and tense with one another. Life is full of obstacles and love doesn’t stop them coming. Love isn’t always excitement, flinging your clothes off and swinging from chandeliers. Real love is always about being with your best friend.

Meet The Author


David Alan Nicholls (born 30 November 1966) is an English novelist and screenwriter. Nicholls is the middle of three siblings. He attended Barton Peveril sixth-form college at Eastleigh, Hampshire, from 1983 to 1985 (taking A-levels in Drama and Theatre Studies along with English, Physics and Biology), and playing a wide range of roles in college drama productions. Colin Firth was at the same College and they later collaborated in And When Did You Last See Your Father?. He went to Bristol University in the 1980s (graduating with a BA in Drama and English in 1988) before training as an actor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Throughout his 20s, he worked as a professional actor using the stage name David Holdaway. He played small roles at various theatres, including the West Yorkshire Playhouse and, for a three-year period, at the Royal National Theatre. He struggled as an actor and has said “I’d committed myself to a profession for which I lacked not just talent and charisma, but the most basic of skills. Moving, standing still – things like that.”

Since then, David has turned to writing full-time, and is the author of four novels. ‘One Day’ was an international bestseller and the follow-up, ‘Us’, was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. He’s also a screenwriter and TV dramatist; his credits include adaptations of ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and feature film version of his own novels. ‘One Day’ and ‘Starter for Ten